Archive for March, 2013

This Just In: Bonus Money for High Test Scores Leads to Cheating

March 31, 2013 Comments off

The story about Governor Sonny Perdue’s relentless pursuit of the truth about school performance in yesterday’s NYTimes should turn the stomach of Arne Duncan, every member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and every educator who stood on the sidelines while this happened. I hope that those who formerly praised Dr. Hall’s “success” would speak out against the cheating that occurred, hail the work done by the investigative team assembled by Sonny Perdue, praise those who cooperated with the investigators, and MAYBE question the wisdom of linking test scores to compensation. … especially given the conclusions drawn by the Times reporters:

It is not just an Atlanta problem. Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals and schools. In El Paso, a superintendent went to prison recently after removing low-performing children from classes to improve the district’s test scores. In Ohio, state officials are investigating whether several urban districts intentionally listed low-performing students as having withdrawn even though they were still in school.

What I found particularly appalling was the pushback Governor Perdue encountered:

What made Dr. Hall just about untouchable was her strong ties to local business leaders. Atlanta prides itself in being a progressive Southern city when it comes to education, entrepreneurship and race — and Dr. Hall’s rising test scores were good news on all those fronts. She is an African-American woman who had turned around a mainly poor African-American school district, which would make Atlanta an even more desirable destination for businesses.

And so when Mr. Perdue challenged the test results that underpinned everything — even though he was a conservative Republican businessman — he met strong resistance from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

“There was extensive subtle pressure,” Mr. Perdue said. “They’d say, ‘Do you really think there is anything there? We have to make sure we don’t hurt the city.’ Good friends broke with me over this.”

“I was dumbfounded that the business community would not want the truth,” he said. “These would be the next generation of employees, and companies would be looking at them and wondering why they had graduated and could not do simple skills. Business was insisting on accountability, but they didn’t want real accountability.”

They didn’t want “real accountability” because. like taxpayers and politicians, the Chamber of Commerce wanted to believe that low cost “miracles” could “turn around” schools. The losers in all of this are the students whose test scores were changed and who were led to believe they were successful.

Now… we’ve learned the names of the Principals who cheated and the teachers who were complicit in the cheating… let’s learn the names of the Principals who DIDN’T cheat their students… and the teachers who REFUSED to play along… and let’s make sure THEY are rewarded for their honesty and integrity. Arne Duncan: here’s a chance to make a statement on the importance of playing by the rules.

Channeling Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s DAy Off I say: “Duncan?…. Duncan?…. Duncan?…”

This Just In: Principal’s Evaluations Are Accurate!

March 31, 2013 1 comment

An article in today’s NYTimes has the headline “Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass”. As my comment to this article indicates, this isn’t a “curious grade” for anyone who’s worked as a public school administrator:

I retired in 2011 after working as a school based administrator in two different states for 6 years and a Superintendent in five different states for 29 years. This finding reflects my experience. The number of exceptionally bad teachers— whose who deserve an unsatisfactory rating– is AT MOST 5%. Our current evaluation system based on classroom observations and goal setting yielded this result and contributed to this result by counseling weak teachers out of the teaching profession. The “failing schools” and “failing teachers” meme is one propagated by those who are looking for a easy, cheap fix to a complicated problem that will require a greater investment than taxpayers are willing to make. The schools that struggle are the ones that serve low income children in low paying school districts with inadequate resources. Providing those needed resources will require more money. The millions of dollars spent to identify “bad teachers” would be better spent on under-resoruced schools.

Here’s what’s especially maddening: the millions spent by these States to prove what Principals already knew was spent on standardized testing… and the emphasis on those standardized tests impeded opportunities for innovation and individualization. We’ve been spending billions on tests that repeatedly prove that children raised in households where both parents are well educated and affluent do better than students raised in households where neither parent has a solid education and have limited resources. We keep establishing this fact and continue to do nothing about it… because it would require us to provide resources to those educationally and economically disadvantaged families and those resources would require more spending.

I had a tagline on the comment that I deleted at the last second. It’s one I’ve used in this blog before: When we spend as much on students in the Bronx as we spend on students in Bronxville we will have equal opportunity in our schools.

Bill Gates and Dunbar’s Number

March 30, 2013 1 comment

“The 147 People Destroying the Economy” a recent post on Common Dreams by Rickard Eskow, advanced the theory that 147 individuals constitute a de facto interlocking directorate of idea-mongers who effectively hijacked public opinion when it comes to defining economic issues. He contends that our opinions are molded by these decision makers and that the mainstream media unquestioningly echoes and recycles their austerity-based opinions on matters like the euro, the need for a balanced budget in our country, the fact that we cannot regulate banks that are too big to fail (TBTF) nor can we prosecute TBTF bankers. Where does the number 147 come from?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar tried to find out how many people the typical person “really knows.” He compared primate brains to social groups and published his findings in papers with titles like “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates.”

Dunbar concluded that the optimum number for a network of human acquaintances was 147.5, a figure which was then rounded up to 150 and became known as “Dunbar’s Number.” He found groups of 150-200 in all sorts of places: Hutterite settlements. Roman army units. Academic sub-specialties. Dunbar concluded that “there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”

That means that 147 people can change the course of history. Not necessarily the same 147 people, of course. But the small social groups which surround our world’s leaders have extraordinary power.

Eskow’s essay proposes that our economic policies are failing because of the very same 147 people who advise Obama are the 147 people listened to by the mainstream Republican leaders and the 147 people listened to by the mainstream media.

The “147″ run companies. They also hold fundraisers for politicians – in both parties.

When Senator Obama became President Obama, during the gravest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, one of his first acts was to create a “Deficit Commission” instead of a “Jobs Commission.” Why? Because “147 people” thought that was the right priority….

Then there are the news anchors and journalists who say things like this: Everybody knows that we need to cut Social Security. Everybody knows the deficit is our most urgent problem.

This resonated with me because in education I have a sense there are 147 people who have decided that school reform means accountability based on standardized test results  and schools that “fail” based on these test results should be closed and replaced with private for-profit schools. Reform also means “choice”, because parents should be afforded the opportunity to enroll their children in for-profit charter schools or sectarian private schools if their “government controlled” public schools are “failing”. Everyone knows that standardized tests are the best way to measure school performance… and everyone knows that “choice” is beneficial.

And who are the 147? Well, Diane Ravitch has some ideas on that issue. In a post yesterday she suggested her readers look again at an article published in the NYimes in May, 2011, entitled “Behind Grass Roots Advocacy: Bill Gates”. The article describes several organizations Gates founded that advance his ideas on school reform… which are the ideas “EVERYONE” knows are true. The article included this prescient quote:

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.

The ideas one the economy that “everyone” agrees with now seem similar to the ideas that emerged from think tanks like the Heritage Foundation…. and the ideas “everyone agrees today with seem similar to those advocated by Bill Gates. The only saving grace: the blogosphere is making it clearer to people that the conventional wisdom on austerity and the conventional wisdom on “reform” is not getting the desired results and MAYBE it’s becoming clear that what “everyone” knows is wrong.

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